Cubs prep for district tourney with doubleheader splits

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The spirit of the Comeback Cubs came back again last weekend in Dillon.

Though in modified form.

And just in time for the Southern A District Tournament set to start tomorrow in Three Forks.

The Cubbies sustained their late-season momentum heading into the annual tourney by rebounding from potentially dispiriting losses in the openers of a pair of home doubleheaders last weekend to gain impressive victories in the night caps.

After dropping a gut-wrenching 7-5 decision to GVO with a late collapse in Saturday’s opener on Cubs Field at Ray Lynch Park in Dillon, the Cubbies picked themselves to post a 9-6 triumph over their long-time nemesis in the night cap.

The Cubs got blanked in Sunday’s first game, losing 10-0 to the Missoula Mavs, and looked headed for a second straight shutout loss before exploding late to vault to an 11-4 win.

“I thought in that first game we were lethargic and didn’t play well. I think it might have been a product of a big letdown from yesterday, when we played two big conference games and won a big one in the afternoon,” said Cubs Head Coach Greg Fitzgerald.

“We talked to them after the game and said, ‘we can’t go into the district tournament on a downer,’” recalled Fitzgerald, whose team got blanked again through the first three innings Sunday and only had plated one run heading into the bottom of the sixth, where they erupted for 10 runs.

“I kind of challenged them. It took awhile, but finally with two outs, we scored 10 runs. That’s one of the things this team has—the ability to score runs in bunches,” said Fitzgerald, whose Cubs have regularly put up double-digit run totals in games this month.

“And another thing is we have a lot of guys who contribute on offense. A lot of our guys contributed to that big inning.”

The sixth inning rally got going with a Pete Gibson single to left field that scored two runners, and continued when Jace Fitzgerald delivered another RBI single to LF to tie the game, 4-4.

Then Kale Konen delivered the go-ahead hit—a bases loaded triple over the leftfielder’s head that scored three teammates and put Dillon up for good.

Cole Pulliam hit another triple to the left field fence to score another runner, and Gibson capped the scoring binge he initiated with a two-RBI single to centerfield to set the final score, which got cemented when Connor Vezina put the Mavs down in order in the top of the seventh and final inning.

“I thought Tyler Lagunas did a really good job pitching in Game Two and then Connor Vezina did a good job coming in and shutting things down,” said Fitzgerald of two emerging members of his pitching staff.

“We came back strong in both second games of this weekend, but it was really a tale of two games,” noted Fitzgerald of the disparity in comeback circumstances and styles.

“Yesterday, we played really well in the first game and it just came back and bit us in the end,” said Fitzgerald of his team’s late stumble against GVO after recording six excellent innings against one of the conference’s perennial title contenders.

“Sometimes the hardest out to get in a game is the first out of the last inning,” said Fitzgerald, whose team just need three more outs to better GVO, before the Outlaws used a combination of singles, walks, an HBP, aggressive base running, Cub errors and a wild pitch to score four runs to take a 6-5 lead before Dillon recorded an out on their way to the 7-5 away victory.

But the Cubs stormed back in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader to post a revivifying three-run win.

“It felt good to get that win against GVO. We hadn’t beaten them in quite a while,” noted Gibson of the team that knocked the Cubs out of the district tourney last season.

“We just need to play the full seven innings and we can beat anyone,” said Gibson.

“We have proven we can beat anyone,” said Fitzgerald, whose Cubs bettered the district’s top team during the regular season, Belgrade, the previous weekend in Dillon.

“Unfortunately, we’ve also proven we can lose to anyone,” said the Cubs skipper of his team, which has indeed lost this season to each of the league’s other seven teams, including 3-25 Anaconda and 4-24 Livingston.

But the big wins have come in recent weeks for a Cubs team that finished the league season 13-15, despite opening the 2020 campaign with six straight conference setbacks.

“I think we can make some noise at the district tourney,” said Cole Johnston, a member of last year’s Cubs team that staged several astonishing comebacks in the 2019 Southern A District Tourney to gain a spot at the state tourney.

“We are a team nobody wants to play. I don’t think anyone wants to see us at the district tourney.”

Local fans looking to see the Cubs at this week’s Southern A District tourney will get a chance tomorrow, Thursday, July 30, when the fifth seeded Cubs play in the tournament opener on Imerys Field in Three Forks at 9 a.m. against the no. 5 seeded Bozeman Bucks, who sport an identical 13-15 league record to the Cubs.

Winning that opener could set the Cubs up for a collision with top-seeded Belgrade in the second round.

A loss would send the Cubs into the back bracket in the double-elimination tourney, the top two finishers in which will gain spots at the State A tourney set for the following week in Lewistown.

Go to www.dillontribunecom for updates on the results and how they impact the schedule at the district tournament this week as the Cubs vie for a berth at the state tourney.